Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels
As you might well guess, the blog isn’t the only repository for my cocktail knowledge and experiments. Since the summer of 2010, I’ve kept a cocktail journal, of sorts: it started as a collection of recipes scribbled haphazardly into a Moleskine notebook, but has since evolved into a chronological account of the boozy side of my life. Every drink I have, every liquor I sip, every experiment I conduct, and every bar I visit is entered under its respective date. At least, as far as is possible — one’s memory is apt to be a little hazy after a few cocktails, and crowded bars aren’t exactly conducive to note-taking — there have been quite a few entries made a day or more after the actual imbibing.
Still, what has emerged is a surprisingly thorough body of knowledge, one that I delve back into every now and then for inspiration — to revisit old flavors and their associated memories. So, when I was craving something bright and refreshing to take my mind off the snow falling on Queens and to use up the oranges and lemons languishing in the fridge, I reached for the ol’ notebook. I was also looking for something to fit our latest Mixology Monday theme, Sours, which is being hosted by Andrea over at Ginhound. Andrea has stated the theme as such:
“Some of the most iconic cocktails are Sours…A perfectly balanced sour is a work of art. What has happened to the Margarita shows exactly what is at stake when mixes replace bartender skill.
For this month’s MxMo I suggest that we test the sour to the limit: Are there citrus besides lemon, lime and grapefruit that works in a Sour? Is citrus the only possible souring ingredient? Could vinegar or other tart fruits or vegetables be used? Let’s also include the Daisies and the Fizzes – that widens the playing field with eggs and whatever makes you fizz to play with.”
The following drink evolved over the span of a week back in August of 2012, when I was mixing up entries for the St. Germain 5th Annual Can-Can Cocktail Classic, and nicely fits the bill…
- 1-1/2 ounces Boulard Calvados (Pays d’Auge VSOP)
- 3/4 – 1 ounce (to taste) St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
- 1/2 ounce Lemon Juice
- 1/2 ounce Orange Juice
- 1 dash Bittercube Lemon Tree Bitters
- 1 dash Bittercube Orange Bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.
The Lapin Agile is based directly on the Applejack Rabbit, a little-known classic from David Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks that I first read about ages ago in the Cocktail Chronicles. While the Rabbit switches out simple syrup for maple syrup, and is excellent, I was searching for a use for St. Germain, and felt that its lovely floral flavor would work well with apples and citrus. Wouldn’t you know it, a simple swap in Embury’s drink didn’t turn out half bad. Still, the light flavor of the St. Germain and the acidity of the citrus dominated — it needed the zingy depth of citrus oils, or something similar, to act as a counterbalance, so in went the orange and lemon bitters (though an orange peel in the drink is a nice addition). The final task was settling on an apple brandy to use: I ultimately went with calvados (Boulard VSOP — nice and fruity), which contributed a uniqueness and complexity of its own that the stalwart-but-straightforward Laird’s was lacking. That’s not to say you can’t use Laird’s: their Bonded brandy works well here, but is very brusque, while the 7-1/2 year results in a sweeter, mellower version of the drink; I have a feeling the 12-year would work perfectly (though I’ve yet to acquire a bottle). The calvados is French, anyway — more in keeping with the St. G. contest (and their overly-French marketing identity), plus it reinforces the drink’s name.
Ah, the name! It translates to, “The Nimble Rabbit” — a perfect name for a bar, don’t you think? Steve Martin apparently thought as much — it’s the setting of his nifty little play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which details a fictional encounter between Picasso and Einstein in Paris, 1904 — a meeting of the artistic and scientific minds on the verge of breakthroughs that shaped the 20th Century. The two sidle up to the bar to schmooze and discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything, and the geniuses aren’t the only philosophical contributors: the bartender and his regulars weigh in, as does a mysterious time traveler with a pompadour haircut. I happened to see the play performed by DramaTech a number of years ago, and was hooked. I figured that adaptation of the name would be a nice little tribute to Mr. Martin’s play — and his fictional bar needed a house cocktail, anyway.
For further variations — some of which I’ve tested — I suggest swapping out the apple brandy for cognac, or switching to a batch of bitters that are similar to apple pie spices — think Jerry Thomas’s Own Decanter or Abbott’s, or a nice cinnamon tincture. Orgeat could make a nice sweetener, and Meyer lemons would be fun to play with…but that’s another post.
Photos by IJL.
PS: The Lapin Agile didn’t win any mention in the contest, though the Jacques-in-the-Green netted me a runner-up position and a St. Germain bicycle. Crazy, right?
PPS: While we’re on the topic of sours and citrus, I’ve been (not-very-methodically) searching for the Mythical White Grapefruit for the longest time — spotting them only once at a Whole Foods in Atlanta, sometime in early spring, I think. Any of you cocktailian bloggers know where and when to find them in NYC? The truly authentic Zombie awaits…